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The competition heats up: A news report today suggests that Aeroject Rocketdyne is considering increasing its $2 billion bid to buy ULA, thus forcing that company to use its rocket engines rather than Blue Origin’s.
The article contains a lot of information that helps explain the background behind Aerojet Rocketdyne’s offer as well as ULA’s recent switch to Blue Origin. For one thing, ULA apparently dumped Aeroject because the company refused to invest any of its own money in developing a new rocket engine.
Last summer, Aerojet’s board also rejected ULA’s request that Aerojet invest $300 million to accelerate work on the AR-1 engine it is developing as an alternative to the Russian RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas V rocket, the sources said. … Aerojet’s refusal to invest more in the AR-1 engine ultimately drove ULA to opt for the BE-4 engine being developed by privately held Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon.com founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, the sources said.
More significant, it appears that the Rocketdyne portion of the company is owned by the Russians!
An Aerojet takeover of ULA would also require Russia to give its regulatory approval and transfer a technology license for use of the RD-180 engines, according to two of the sources. Russia refused to transfer the license to Aerojet when it bought Rocketdyne from Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) unit in 2013, forcing Pratt to retain control of a small company that brokers RD-180 sales, and could be more reluctant to do so now, the sources said.
While the quote above is somewhat confusing, it certainly suggests that, with Congress banning the use of Russian-built engines in American rockets, using Aerojet Rocketdyne engines by ULA has become problematic.
In related more bad news for Aeroject Rocketdyne, the company has just agreed to pay Orbital ATK $50 million in connection with last year’s Antares launch failure. In addition, they will take back the Russian-built engines they refurshed and sold to Orbital. The agreement also ends the company’s part in Antares.